Injustice on the Irish language

Senior judges in the North have rejected a legal bid to over turn a penal law ban on the use of Irish language in court proceedings.


The Court of Appeal dismissed claims that the centuries-old law was discriminatory and breached the European Convention on Human Rights.

“At common law English is the working language of the court and this shall remain so unless and until the matter is changed by statute,” said the judge, Paul Girvan.

Irish language speaker Caoimhin Mac Giolla Cathain had been appealing the dismissal or a legal case he took after being informed his application in Irish for an occasional drinks licence could not be considered.

Court staff said the reason was that under the Administration of Justice (Language) Act (Ireland) of 1737, all proceedings in courts in the Six Counties must be in English.

The liquor licence sought by Mr Cathain, a member or the Shaws Road Gaeltacht, was in connection with a musical concert at the Culturlann arts centre in Behast.

Last summer the High Court rejected his contention that the 1737 act was incompatible with the European Charter for Regional and Minorities Language and that it contravened his human rights.

His lawyers then went before a three-judge appeal panel to point out that the legislation has been repealed in Scotland and Wales.

But Girvan, sitting with two other judges, claimed the act had not been shown to be incompatible with any of Mr Cathain’s convention rights.

Outside the court an umbrella group for Irish speakers expressed disappointment with the ruling and called for the urgent introduction of an Irish Language Act.

Pobal’s chief executive Janet Muller, said: “Clearly there is a major issue with a 273-year-old law that bans the use of the indigenous language of Ireland in the courts in part of Ireland.”

Ms Muller said that her organisation has already been in contact with new Justice Minister David Ford.

“It’s very difficult to defend the rights of Irish speakers at the minute because there is no specific domestic legislation for the Irish language,” she said.

Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams said the 1737 Act was “completely unacceptable to the Irish speaking community as well as people who respect Irish culture and multilingualism”.

He said the Act had no place in 21st century Ireland.

“Irish language groups have done sterling work in attempting to overturn the 1737 Act and the EU’s Committee of experts stated clearly that it goes against the spirit of the European Charter for Regional and Minority Languages.

“Obviously the Irish speaking community across the north and beyond will be deeply angered by this regressive step. I will again be in contact with the British Government and the Minister for Justice seeking them to once again to overturn this act.”

He also expressed his anger and frustration at the repeated failure of the ‘Culture Minister’ Nelson McCausland to meet the Assembly Committee and brief them on a draft Irish Language strategy.

“The record of DUP Ministers on fulfilling their Ministerial duty to bring forward an Irish language strategy has been dismal,” he said.

“Minister McCausland was to produce an Irish language strategy by the end of March. He has failed to do this.

“He was due to brief the Assembly committee tomorrow on a draft strategy and has now pulled out. In addition his officials have indicated that an Irish language strategy may not now be produced until September -- a full six months late.

And there is every suspicion that the Minister will continue to stall on this Ministerial responsibility.

“All languages deserve respect and all language communities should have access to services. The DCAL Minister has a particular responsibility in this respect which he is failing to deliver on.”

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